There’s a quiet blogging renaissance that’s hitting all the sweet spots of what the internet can be. This stands in stark contrast to the banality and ugliness that define the web as brought to you by managers and marketers.
Memory lane: the pre-social internet
I fondly remember the MySpace era — well before Facebook was a thing. There were all sorts of eclectic and engaging sites that I enjoyed reading. This was a world of amateurs — travel blogs for the fun of it, forums about obscure hobbies and amateur makers.
Almost none of this was monetized. Instead, we were mostly exploring, sharing, paying for cheap hosting and making contacts around the world. I’m still in touch with people I met on forums back then. The randomness of it meant that you could easily end up chatting with someone on the other side of the world and different in nearly every demographic checkbox.
The odd irony is that Facebook has killed off much of that world. The social internet is no longer social. The fun is gone unless you go looking around the fringes of the web.
Ye olde blogge strikes back
In the face of the ‘social internet’ there’s been a resurgence of old school blogging. Much like the fuzzy boundaries of the intellectual dark web, what I see as the blogging renaissance is by no means definitive.
- Content first — write about whatever niche you inhabit and primarily for yourself.
- Brutalist design — functional minimalism with an emphasis on typography.
- RSS is king — forget deleting Facebook, you were never on it to start with.
- Not a day job — blogging and writing is for fun, not your primary source of income.
It’s striking how differently people write when crafting an essay to clarify their own thoughts, share a useful tidbit of information or simply for the joy of it. There’s no concern for keywords, affiliate links and content strategies. A significant knowledge gap appeared in the modern web when these sites died, moved behind the closed walls of social media or got buried by professional SEO.
In 2008, I could search for travel info about tiny towns in Central Asia and the first page of results was mostly personal blogs. People shared their experiences, tips, photos and mundane things like prices and schedules. Now the first few pages are travel agencies and ticket resellers with nary a travelogue to be found.
The alternatives just aren’t the same. Wikivoyage has dry information, but none of the human touch of the early travel blogs. Instagram is useless unless seeing heavily edited pictures that make every destination look #amazing#nofilterneeded is what you’re looking for. I can also see why people don’t make travel posts public on Facebook — one out of context side comment is all it takes to be publicly shamed by the SJW brigades.
Blogs don’t go viral; good content slowly builds an audience. This dynamic rewards quality writing, whereas social media rewards clickbait.
Brutalism set out to expose raw materials in a finished building rather than hiding them away. That same ethos informs brutalist web design. A blog should look and feel like a website — readable text, a working back button, easily identifiable links and logical navigation.
This goes beyond mere esthetics. Bloated website burn though fossil fuel. Anyone building a site has a moral responsibility to optimize performance, both for readers and the planet.
No blog is an island, but social media isn’t the way to get traction for a blog. Despite all the cries of RSS being dead, there’s a huge community still using it. I follow dozens of sites with RSS — some with over a million subscribers, others with a handful.
The slow sharing system of links to other blogs, a mention on a podcast, seeing something on Reddit or random chance — these all keep me constantly discovering new sources and getting perspectives outside of my bubble.
Most of the good blogs that I read are not monetized. There’s nothing wrong with making money, but why do we need to turn a hobby into a side hustle? You don’t need to be the best, read the greatest writer or get millions of likes — mediocrity’s a wonderful thing. I like reading blogs by people with a normal job, not someone regurgitating self help books and stuffing their posts with affiliate links so they can pretend they’re a digital nomad.
Enter the marketers and managers
Wherever humans are paying attention to something, marketers will try to enter that space and sell their wares. Even worse, managerial types will show up to ‘optimize’ things.
The web that they’ve created is a monster. Instead of sharp prose and well thought out reflections, we have bloated sites, stock photos everywhere and constant calls to actions. No, I don’t need to sign up for your email list, share your article on Facebook and I certainly didn’t need a full-screen pop-up. This is the world of managerial types that shamelessly sacrifice the internet on the altar of metrics.
While I can at least understand why a corporate blog would, it’s bewildering to see small personal blogs with a call-to-action button, email subscriptions and analytics.
How SEO is ruining the internet
The web is awash in content that was never intended to be read by humans. There are millions more sites created to link to that initial content that was never intended for humans. This game exists solely to give websites a bump in their search rank. The problem is that these sites are now dominating the first page of search results.
Goodhart’s Law strikes again, and Google’s original idea of using links to rank the relevance of search results has been gamed to death. It’s to the point that a handful of powerful content companies control the first page of Google. The fun and personal aspect of the internet has waned — managers and marketers have killed it.
In the early 2000s, I could reliably get a range of opinions and sources by searching online. In 2019, that’s no longer the case.
The blogging renaissance
There’s no reason to ignore improvements that have come along since the MySpace era. Content aggregators that offer human curation, improvements in typography and more media choices are steps forward.
Nonetheless, much of what makes blogging worthwhile is timeless. Non-techies can learn enough HTML and CSS to build their own sites over a weekend. Anyone can find lesser known writers and follow them via RSS. And most importantly, everyone should be a blogger. There’s no better way to organize your own thoughts than trying to write them down.